It’s a first for the Kings
Here’s a statement Kings fans haven’t been able to truthfully utter this late in the season for too many years:
The Kings are the No. 1 team in the West, catapulted there Saturday on a 3-2 decision after Michal Handzus sliced a backhander past Dallas goaltender Alex Auld in the fourth round of a shootout and the on-ice officials ruled Mike Ribeiro’s apparent goal against Jonathan Quick had come on a rebound, which isn’t permitted in a shootout.
A video review confirmed the call and secured the victory, the Kings’ fourth in a row and seventh in eight games.
“I held my breath there for a second,” said Quick, who stopped Brad Richards, James Neal and Matt Niskanen before facing Ribeiro.
No need. The Kings improved to 11-1-3 in one-goal games and Quick to 7-1-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in his last nine games -- and they’re not satisfied.
“Nobody in this room sees this as the finish line,” defenseman Matt Greene said. “It’s up to the leaders in this room to make sure that doesn’t happen, either.
“Our goal isn’t to be competitive halfway through the year. It’s to be in the playoffs and be in a good position going into the playoffs.”
Again, they relied on their grit and surprising depth. They’ll have to continue to do that because winger Wayne Simmonds suffered a knee injury and will undergo surgery Monday.
No one is sure when Simmonds was injured and Coach Terry Murray wouldn’t speculate on how long he will be out. Murray also said that Smyth, injured Nov. 16, will sit out the team’s games this week at Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
That’s a lot of adversity.
But several players stepped up to fill the void Saturday, as Simmonds had stepped up during the early stages of Smyth’s absence. Brad Richardson had an assist and Anze Kopitar scored his second goal in three games after going 13 games without a goal.
Justin Williams, who set up Alexander Frolov on a two-on-one in the second period, said the Kings’ resilience and determination will carry them. They knew before Saturday’s game that they could sit atop the West if they won and the Sharks lost, and they weren’t about to let that chance slip past them.
“That’s definitely something that if you looked 10 games ago might not be possible as quickly as it did,” Williams said. “We’re where we want to be, but we feel we haven’t reached our potential yet.
“That’s our job, to go out and really dominate teams. We’re playing decent, but we’re not totally dominating, which I know we can.”
The Kings are 21-10-3 for 45 points, their third-best 34-game start in club history, behind only the 1980-81 team’s 47 points and the 1974-75 team’s 47 points at the same stage. The San Jose Sharks also have 45 points but on 19 wins, giving the Kings the edge in the tiebreaker.
The Stars scored the only goal of the first period. James Neal was toward the left side of the slot when he redirected a nice setup from Brad Richards for his team-leading 14th goal, at 1:22.
The Kings pulled even early in the second period on a play that began with a faceoff loss in their end. Mike Modano beat Kopitar on the draw in the left circle and the puck went off the boards and to Karlis Skrastins at the left point. His shot was blocked by Williams, who controlled the puck and took it the other way on a two on one with Frolov.
Williams, skating up the right side, feathered a pass over defenseman Trevor Daley’s stick to Frolov, who one-timed it past Auld at 4:12 for his eighth goal.
The Stars took advantage of a rare mistake by Drew Doughty to regain the lead. Doughty had the puck in the right-wing corner but lost it to veteran Jere Lehtinen. The Finn came around the net and threw the puck in front, but it caromed into the slot to Modano, who lifted a wrist shot over Quick at 7:07.
A fortunate bounce helped the Kings pull even, 2-2, at 19:52 of the second period. Richardson passed the puck back to the left point to Sean O’Donnell, whose hard shot was blocked by Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas. He tried to prod it away, but Kopitar pounced on it and rifled it past Auld.
That was all until the shootout, another dramatic chapter in a story that’s still unfolding.
“There’s a lot more in here,” Williams said, meaning heart and will if not healthy bodies.